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Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Industrial Workers of the World

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD, a radical labor organization representing a theory of organization different from and opposed to that of crafts unionism, generally described as "industrial unionism." The organization, familiarly known as the I. W. W., is of recent origin, having been organized in Chicago, in 1904, by Thomas J. Haggerty and Clarence Smith, the former editor of the official organ of the American Labor Union, and the latter its secretary-treasurer. In the following year a convention of the new organization was held, in Chicago, which was attended by delegates representing about 40,000 rank and file. The membership later increased to about 50,000, but seems never to have grown beyond that strength.

The idea behind the I. W. W. is that labor should be organized into one broad organization, regardless of trades or crafts, with a low and uniform initiation fee. "One big union," is the slogan by which this principle is expressed. The contention of the leaders is that crafts organization leads to corruption and divides labor into countless small groups, each with a separate and selfish interest. Aside from this, the I. W. W. has aims quite distinct from those of the crafts unions. While it seeks to raise the wages of its members, this is considered only an incidental object, the main purpose being to form the basis of an industrial democracy, in which the workers shall take over control of industry and control it themselves, the workers of each industry running their own affairs. Unlike the political socialist parties, however, the I. W. W. does not believe that this may be accomplished through political action, but through "industrial action." By this they mean that the capitalists will be finally ousted from control by continuous harrying on the part of the organized workers; by a continuous succession of strikes and by various forms of sabotage, all to finally culminate in the great general strike which shall usher in the social revolution. In this respect the program of the I. W. W. comes very close to the syndicalism of European countries.

Very few skilled workers have so far affiliated themselves with the I. W. W., the majority of its members being the poorer paid and unskilled workers in the textile industry, and that migratory class of workers popularly known as "hoboes," who follow the harvesting season in the W. from S. to N., and who, during the winter, are largely found in the lumber camps.

The I. W. W. has precipitated several large strikes, notably those in Lawrence, Mass., and that of the silk workers, in Paterson, N. J., in 1913. Its most prominent leaders are Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William Haywood, and Carlo Tresca.